By Michael Lello
You could excuse These United States chief songwriter and singer Jesse Elliott for feeling underwhelmed about a date in a market like Scranton on the band's current tour route. TUS just got back from Europe, where it opened a string of dates for former Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell, had a show in Philadelphia last night, another set for Brooklyn next Monday and a summer festival schedule that will find the group sharing stages with the likes of My Morning Jacket, Mumford & Sons and Primus.
Elliott, however, is stoked to bring TUS back to The Bog on Saturday, May 14, where the band will headline this very website's launch party. To be fair, in this e-mail interview he seems excited about nearly everything, including the interview itself, but let's not look a gift horse in the mouth. Read on for Elliott's take on TUS being mistaken for Kings Of Leon, what method of tour transportation he hopes to someday employ and why he'll be seeing 700 fans at the Scranton show.
H81R: How would you describe "What Lasts," your newest record. What were your goals going into that album?
JE: It’s a story about a death -- that begins with a death, really -- one that you’re not sure if it actually happens or not. So everything that follows from that first maybe-death is another life, and it ends in life. Musically, too, it’s about the five of us coming alive together, really starting off working on something more collectively, trying to integrate every part by every member moreso than we’d done in the past, writing each others’ parts, rewriting each others’ parts, really mixing it up.
H81R: You posted on Twitter that the band was mistaken for Kings Of Leon in a London airport during the European tour that just wrapped up. Tell us that story.
JE: This very sheepish teenage girl approached us, the five of us sitting in the middle of our massive gear pile -- guitars, pedal boards, suitcases, massive pedal steel flight case, big clunky metal rockandroll everything -- and asked us to sign a journal for her. Our drummer Robby asked if she knew who we were. She didn’t answer directly. He persisted. She was evasive. It got funny and uncomfortable. She finally motioned to her boyfriend, standing 50 yards away, equally sheepishly, and said “You’re the Kings of Leon, right? He knew you were on tour over here” -- which was true, maybe, I think -- “He really loves you guys. He wouldn’t come ask himself.” I’m not sure what country the Kings of Leon still lug their own gear around, but it would amuse me to visit there.
H81R: Any other fun or interesting stories to share from Europe?
JE: Whew. Well. Hm. Mountains in Norway. Houseboats in Amsterdam. North Sea skivvy-dipping in the Netherlands. And, actually, out of nowhere, dark horse contender, the wildest night of them all was Cologne, where our new friend Rosalie said many funny things in a thick German accent, including, but not limited to, “Stop bojangling that cigarette” and “I have now a bad case of the monkeys.”
H81R: What was touring with Jason Isbell like?
JE: Fantastic. Total pros. Spot-on entertainers. Amazing stories. Musical legacies. These guys know how to spin a yarn, onstage and off. We learned the world -- according to Muscle Shoals, anyway -- from them.
H81R: You'll be playing in Scranton on May 14 for what I believe will be the third or fourth time. Have you seen an increase in attendance and interest in shows in Scranton? What challenges do you face in playing smaller markets, and is there anything you can do to overcome those challenges?
JE: It becomes very hard to count accurately from very early in the evening in Scranton. Things seem to multiply, or dissolve into each other, or just plain not matter as much as they once did. We have a blast there every single time. The challenge is often the day after.
H81R: Bob Geldof said he wanted to check out These United States at South By Southwest. How did you feel about hearing that, and did he end up checking out the band?
JE: Yeah, that was wild, huh? And he said it in an interview with Ted Leo, another musical hero of ours. This musical world is very surreal. We’re only just now beginning to grasp that fundamental fact in a more visceral, personal way. Honestly, no idea if he ever caught us. We just played so many shows for so many people so fast. You have to be a marathon runner, enter the Zen trance, eyes on the skies, focus on the wind.
H81R: The band seems to have grown at a manageable pace. What is the "next step?" What else would you like the band to accomplish?
JE: We want to tour on elephants. Three elephants for each band member. Elephants are just amazing.
H81R: What music did you listen to growing up? Do you think it had an impact on These United States?
JE: Punk. Rock. Polka. Really. Everyone listens to everything these days, don’t they? Very early, just parents’ record collections, of course, just like all the kids. But then it all just opened up. We’ve listened to everything that’s ever been recorded anywhere by anyone, and even some of the more obscure stuff that hasn’t been thought of yet.
H81R: You seem to be quite a literary-minded person. Do you have other outlets for your writing besides song lyrics?
JE: Interviews where people take a moment to ask thoughtful questions are fun. This is one of those. Thank you, Mike. Also, absurdist graffiti on bandmates’ personal items and flight cases.
H81R: What are you working on currently?
JE: This interview.
H81R: Not really a question, but if there's anything I didn't ask that you'd like to mention, please do!
JE: Oh, and our next album -- we’re working on that, too! We can’t wait for you to hear it! We want everyone to hear it. All of Scranton. There will be 700 people at our next Scranton show. That is how many people we will be seeing in front of us, from very early in the evening on. That is the kind of place that Scranton is -- it multiplies everything for you! Magic!